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The Morgan Presents a Look Inside Jayne Wrightsman’s Exceptional Collection of Bookbindings

Bound for Versailles:

The Jayne Wrightsman Bookbindings Collection

June 25 through September 26, 2021

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New York, NY (June 16, 2021) – The Morgan Library & Museum proudly presents Bound for Versailles: The Jayne Wrightsman Bookbindings Collection. In the spring of 2019 Jayne Wrightsman (1919–2019) bequeathed to the Morgan in honor of Annette de la Renta an exceptional collection of nearly 200 volumes bound for the highest echelons of 18th-century French society. A society icon and cultural benefactor, Mrs. Wrightsman had supported the Morgan for nearly 40 years. Owned by kings, queens, dukes, and duchesses, the books are monuments of fine printing, elegant, engraved illustration, and artistic binding by the most renowned craftspeople. The books on display exemplify the important role that women, such as Madame Adélaïde, (daughter of King Louis XV) and Queen Marie- Antoinette, had as book owners and collectors.

Book illustrations by François Boucher, Jean- Baptiste Oudry, and Charles-Nicolas Cochin capture the visual ethos of the eighteenth century, while the artisan binders (male and female) at the workshops of Luc-Antoine Boyet, Antoine- Michel Padeloup, Nicolas-Denis Derome, and others produced bindings worthy of the bookcases at Versailles.

This exhibition honors Mrs. Wrightsman’s gift and her collecting acumen in recognizing the important role bookbinding played in the decorative arts and the cultural life of the Ancien Régime.  

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Mrs. Wrightsman in the New York apartment. Photo by Cecil Beaton, Vogue, October 1, 1966. Photo by Cecil Beaton /Condé

Nast via Getty Images.

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Beginning in the late 1960s, Jayne Wrightsman assembled one of the greatest collections of eighteenth-century French bindings in private hands, perhaps second only to the Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor. Elaborately embellished bindings with armorial bearings signaled the rank, wealth, taste, and learning of titled bibliophiles. Many of the Wrightsman bindings are works of art in their own right and were displayed in her Fifth Avenue apartment in conjunction with French decorative arts and furniture, often from the same period. Her achievements as a book collector were recognized by the Roxburghe Club, which elected her to be one of its forty members. J. Pierpont Morgan was the first American to receive that honor, and he, too, acquired important bindings of this era.

The Wrightsman collection throws light on several historical topics, such as women book owners, French book illustration, and the significant role that books played in the preservation and display of court life. The exhibition showcases the techniques of gilt-tooling and mosaic decoration employed by the bookbinding workshops of Augustin Du Seuil, Jean-Charles Lemonnier, Luc-Antoine Boyet, Nicolas-Denis Derome (le Jeune), Pierre-Paul Dubuisson, and many others. The celebration of material decoration is exemplified in the mosaic binding that Jacques-Antoine Derome, father of Nicolas-Denis, produced for Queen Marie Leszczynska. This extraordinary work is on a French psalter printed in 1725, the year Marie married Louis XV, and both the book and binding were fitting gifts for the new queen.

In addition to exquisite bindings, the Wrightsman collection is rich in important illustrated works, including the monumental four-volume set of La Fontaine’s Fables choisies printed in 1755–1759 with illustrations by Charles-Nicolas Cochin II after Jean-Baptiste Oudry. The Wrightsman copy was bound by Lemonnier for Louis Ph lypeaux, duc de la Vrilli re. One of the best-known books from the period is the so-called Regent’s book, the edition of Daphnis et Chloé printed in 1718 with engravings by Benoît Audran after Philippe II, duc d’Orl ans. Among the manuscripts produced for or dedicated to members of the royal family, one of the most interesting is the autograph manuscript of Andr Philidor’s opera-ballet La princesse de Crète. The manuscript, likely produced for the premiere of the opera in 1688, was bound for Louis XIV.

“Mrs Wrightsman’s understanding of the role of bookbinding in the world of decorative arts allowed her to form an unparalleled collection,” states Colin B. Bailey, Director of the Morgan Library and Museum. “Her bequest transforms the holdings of the Morgan Library in this area – one of the founding components of our collection of Printed Books and Bindings – and we are especially pleased that she made this bequest in honor of her good friend and Morgan trustee, Mrs. Annette de la Renta.”

John T. McQuillen, Associate Curator, notes, “The volumes on display in this exhibition represent people: not only Mrs. Wrightsman and the original owners, but also the artists, printers, scribes, binders, and finishers (gilders)—both male and female, many still anonymous—who produced these works of literary and artistic importance, capturing the regal tastes and trends of 18th-century France.”

Bound for Versailles: The Jayne Wrightsman Bookbindings Collection will be on view in the Morgan Library & Museum’s Engelhard Gallery from June 25, 2021 to September 26, 2021. 

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Book Cover: Binding by Jacques-Antoine Derome for Marie Leczinska, with the queen’s arms under mica. Le Pseautier de David, traduit en francois, avec des notes courtes, tirées de S. Augustin, & des autres Peres. Nouvelle edition, Paris: Chez Louis Josse et Charles Robustel, 1725. PML 198290.

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Bound for Versailles: The Jayne Wrightsman Bookbindings Collection

June 25 through September 26, 2021 The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street New York, NY 10016

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Organization and Sponsorship

Bound for Versailles: The Jayne Wrightsman Bookbindings Collection is made possible with support from the Jamie and Maisie Houghton Fund and the Parker Gilbert Fund, and with assistance from Barbara G. Fleischman and the Malcolm Hewitt Wiener Foundation. 

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Morgan Library & Museum

A museum and independent research library located in the heart of New York City, the Morgan

Library & Museum began as the personal library of financier, collector, and cultural benefactor Pierpont Morgan. The Morgan offers visitors close encounters with great works of human accomplishment in a setting treasured for its intimate scale and historic significance. Its collection of manuscripts, rare books, music, drawings, and works of art comprises a unique and dynamic record of civilization, as well as an incomparable repository of ideas and of the creative process from 4000 BC to the present.

The Morgan Library & Museum | 225 Madison Avenue | 212.685.0008 | themorgan.org

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